Showing posts with label art of memory. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art of memory. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Places Projects is on Sewanee's website!

Our project, the Places Project, got featured on the Sewanee website.  It is always strange to read an effort to try to capture something that for you is fluid and so very much alive -- even a great piece like this.  The Places Project is in my bones right now.  I am not ready for it to be static, but I am ready for the word to get out there about it.

Places project feature

Anna Sumner Noonan C’17, Catherine Casselman, C’17, and Margo Shea pore over maps of the South Cumberland Plateau annotated with local residents’ stories about places that are significant to them. Photo by Buck Butler

Drawing the People’s Map

A Sewanee professor and her students collect stories about places on the South Cumberland Plateau to compile a rich topography of personal history.



You can read the full piece here:
http://www.sewanee.edu/features/story/places-project.html


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Let Go of Your Sorrows? What To Make of Derry's Temple

How do you say the unsayable?  Translate the untranslatable?  It makes sense that David Best, a sculptor deeply embedded in the "you can't understand it until you've been to it" Burning Man festival would come to Derry, Northern Ireland with ingredients for a community project designed around reflection and release. Sponsored and organized by Artichoke Trust, which specializes in helping artists engage communities in larger-than-life installations located in unpredictable spaces, Temple was conceived as a community process.  To build it.  To inhabit it. To witness as it burned.


According to Best, the point of Temple was twofold: to create a space for catharsis and to reframe bonfires. Bonfires, of course, have a long history in Northern Ireland.   There were fires to commemorate the 12th, the Relief of Derry in August, and then tit-for-tat bonfires to observe Lady Day, or the feast of the Assumption of Mary a couple days later.  And those bonfires, it is said, are artifacts of the ancient bonfires lit to celebrate Lúnasa, the harvest "festival of light." December would see Lundy's effigy burn.  


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Teaching Serial as Public History


serial
Photo credit: Kate Preissler
I took a risk this semester and dedicated a fairly large chunk of class time to teaching Serial in Intro to Public History.  It was placed in the syllabus as a bridge between a unit on memory, identity and different publics and a unit on settings and tools for public history practice.  I was inspired to do this by my own engagement with the podcast (errrr, obsessive binge listening) and by some great email conversations with Kate Preissler, Digital Projects Manager at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA, who wrote a fabulous blog post on Serial and public history for the NCPH blog.

In case you've been under a rock, Serial was a hugely popular podcast that ran for twelve episodes last autumn.  It examined the murder of high school student Hae Min Lee in 1999 in Baltimore and pulled apart the evidence used to successfully convict Lee's ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed -- who pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence to this day, from his cell in a maximum security prison in Maryland.

I wanted to share my rudimentary class outlines and assignments for others who might be interested in exploring Serial with college students.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Art of Memory: Samuel Beckett

Comments I made at a panel on Beckett March 5, 2015.....

If there is one Irish writer whom you do not normally associate with memory, it would have to be Samuel Beckett.  Often portrayed as the "artist from nowhere," and as having an imagination situated somehow "outside of history," Beckett the man and Beckett the writer were almost obsessively forward-looking.  Exploding categories, questioning identities, accommodating chaos.   Looking back? Nah. Except Beckett insisted he could remember being in utero.  Yup. And he didn't like it one bit.  

Seems that for Sam, suffering started early.  He claimed, "It was an existence where there was no voice, no movement that could free me from the agony and darkness I was subjected to."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Greetings from the Ledge: A Pop-Up Museum

I was running an administrative errand in a building I visit only infrequently on campus when I came across a small DIY pop-up exhibit commemorating numerous victims of racist violence.  Welcome to The Ledge Gallery, folks.  

This makes me glad. 




It is simple. It is somber. It is done with a very sparse curatorial hand --- no labels, no descriptions.  The images speak for themselves.  The images speak to those who stop, who look, who listen to what the they say.

A memorial card for Malcolm X holds the center of the tableau.  It forefronts "Our Black Shining Prince," the name Ossie Davis chose for Malcolm X in the eulogy he delivered at Faith Temple Church of God in February, 1965.  Davis famously likened X to Jesus and called on supporters to continue his work when he exhorted, " what we place in the ground is no more now a man—but a seed-which, after the winter of discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is—a Prince—our own black shining Prince!—who didn't hesitate to die, because he loved us so."


Barry Blitt's "Dream of Reconciliation",  which graced the cover of the January 26, 2015 New Yorker Magazine, also made its way into the exhibit.  Dream invokes the iconic image of Martin Luther King linking arms with civil rights protestors during the march from Selma to Montgomery, but instead of King's historic contemporaries, Blitt chose to pair King with a different set of kin.  The cover depicts Dr. King marching alongside Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Wenjian Liu, the NYPD officer killed last month with Rafael Ramos.

There is also a photo of a witness call box, which were used so powerfully in this exhibition on police violence. Due to the exhibit, images of traditional police/fire call boxes have come to stand as a memorial for police violence.




Finally, the unidentifiable image.  South Africa?  The Children's March? I haven't been able to place the image of a police officer with two small boys or to track down the significance of the number, "24841."  If you know, please leave me a comment or email me.


The Ledge is simple, even subtle.  It is easy to miss, and in fact, I was dismayed by the number of people who either didn't notice it, or worse, noticed it and didn't think much of it.  Because it made me want to jump up and down.  It made me want to celebrate, despite its painful content.  It made me proud of the students who came up with the idea and implemented it, claiming space on this campus for memory.  


As U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves reminded us eloquently last week in a speech before sentencing three young white men for the death of James Craig Anderson, an African American who was beaten and then run over, racial injustice today must be understood and faced squarely within the context of over 200 years of institutional racist violence.  The inheritances of the past matter.  They cannot be unremembered and therefore they must not be forgotten.  


Thanks, Ledge guerrilla curators, for reminding us.   
And --- don't you all want to go build a pop-up museum right now? 


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What is Public History? A Slam Poem Ode by an "Intro to PH" Undergraduate

Every time I teach Intro to Public History, we begin the semester with two sets of readings.  One set examines public history as it is situated within:
  • the history of the national parks
  • the discipline of history
  • the context of efforts to amplify invisible, untended or uncomfortable histories
  • the context of ordinary people's interests and engagements with the past
These go over very well.  

The other set?  Classics like Becker's "Everyman His Own Historian," David Lowenthal's meditation on the benefits and burdens of the past, Pierre Nora's famous (and famously dense) discussion of lieux de memoire, "sites" both literal and metaphorical that serve as bridges between history and memory and as anchors of identity in a rapidly changing and homogenizing world.

These go over terribly.  And I assign them anyway.  

This semester, I made my students do a reading response to these readings.  Some of them were fabulous. Some of them, shall we say, reflected the complexity of the texts.  And there was this.  A first. A slam poem reflection on history, memory and public history from the smart and thoughtful Dan McGuire.

Here you go:

Memory moves: its commonplace fog flows from the forefront to a fastidious fin within a fortnight or few. Moments pass, but alas, so do facts.  Herein lies the cause for historical intrigue: subjectivity abounds in interpersonal circles and shifts asunder blunders of remembrance, careless and oft-falsified grandeur in lieu of pithy wonder – the truth. Yet if the personal pains the platitudes of memory, the collective projects the final blow. Intellectuals carve while communities starve, competing for the final morsels of meaty memoranda. Ivory towers block the root notes (local history and communal scholarship) from keeping the beat for the books and brains to selfishly solo on top. Intellectual rot reeks of egoists bloviating into oblivion while ‘armchair’ agitators muck the moors of modern mental matriculation. Such claims decry graduate falsehoods: advanced degrees bring advanced understanding. Nonsense. The public deserves better. They deserve academics devoid of the pomp and pressures of publishing. They deserve driven, dutiful people focused on finding out what truly happened. They deserve public historians!
Treading water gets tiring right quick. Stick a historian in water and they’ll sink or get sick. Swimmers feel the burn and simply turn. Historians have muscular eyes instead of toned triceps to dive. But they tire. Reading renders the reader a simple purveyor of anything the writer wishes. If he chooses to devote an entire chapter to existential undertones in Olympic water-polo so be it, the reader must obey. He might become annoyed and think – “how could this writer have chosen such high-minded nonsense instead of getting to the real meat of the game?” The question therein signals the most important aspect of historical study: picking what to study, why, and which sources (primary and secondary) to utilize. Professional historians more often than not pick peer’s work to prove points. They stay immersed in their archives and libraries to the point of exhaustion. When one stumbles out of their House of Letters they might find, spray painted on the wall before them, a mural. It might depict a recent riot or a once-local figure now nudged into the national: whatever the case, books and essays can only show a part of the puzzle. The people those scribbles of lexigraphy represent truly matter, not decades-removed pretense a la post-Pulitzer pleasure. People are in the game for the game and not for the people.

************
OK.  Is it just me?  Or does it seem as if he was just waiting for the vocabulary to talk about history, memory and the public? About telling stories that matter? About the problems with academic history?  

Another public historian is born! (And this was published with his permission. Albeit blushingly.) 



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Historic Salem Re-Photography Class Photo of 2014

There  was drama from beginning to end.  Getting desks and chairs and setting them up outside Old Town Hall.  Getting  bunch of parking tickets at 8:23 a.m. (OK, I admit I am posting this in part to provide a link to it -- so I can prove to the Parking Hearing Officer that my entire class was downtown to set up this photo. I am hoping s/he will have mercy on me and my promise to protest or pay all the tickets!)  Getting wet on the rainy, slushy way to and from our site to take a photo to enter into a contest for first year seminar class pictures.  Since our class was on The City: History, Memory and Imagination, I think we did OK.







Sunday, November 16, 2014

Nostalgia: A Cost/Benefit Analysis


I am one of those extremely lucky people who is graced with an old friend. A longtime friend.  A friend who has known me from the pigtails  -- to the dreads -- to appropriately adult hair -- to the hair coloring conundrums of the moment.  A friend who remembers my fascination with Fisher Price "little people" and deep love for roller skates, who sat in the beater cars, offered kleenex in the wake of disastrous love affairs, celebrated victorious moments, made me laugh in the face of ordinary griefs.   Nothing I do or say will ever surprise her, quite simply because she has seen it all.  And, I like to think, vice versa.


Lisa, my grandfather and I on a fall day long ago

Last week, I was complaining about my life.  Why so little of this?  Why so much of that?  Why so difficult? Blah blah blah.  And my friend, my dear friend of these four decades, said, "You've got to stop it. You have to let it go."

"Stop what?"  I asked. She said, "Nostalgia. It's all nostalgia."

"Huh?  Nostalgia for what?"

And then she schooled me on nostalgia.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Salem Witch Trial Memorial - “What's This Memorial Really About?”



I was supposed to give this talk today, but it got rained out.  I may have the chance to give it again sometime soon, but I thought I'd post this here in case anyone is interested.

The Salem Witch Trial memorial was erected in 1992 to mark the tercentenary of the witch hysteria. It was designed as the first physical structure in the city of Salem to commemorate the trials and the execution of twenty innocent people suspected of witchcraft in 1692.  

What a beautiful, reflective, introspective space.  People often forget just how long the memorial was in coming to fruition.  Historic Salem, Inc. created a committee in 1963 to commemorate what they then referred to as the Witch Delusion.  The idea was that the memorial would rest on Gallows Hill, where the hangings are believed to have taken place.  At that point, the Essex Institute, now part of the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Massachusetts Society for the Preservation of American Antiquities, now Historic New England, had tossed around the idea of purchasing the Gallows Hill lot on Proctor Street.  They intended to erect a granite shaft to honor those who were executed.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Art of Memory: The Fault in Our Stars

I finally read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.  I am really glad I did.  

I was captivated by the ways the characters experienced their interior lives together, the way they took lonely separateness and made something new.  They co-created narratives about what was happening around them that were sparkly, beautiful, larger -- much larger -- than what they might have conjured on their own.


quotation from The Fault in Our Stars

Sunday, June 29, 2014

'Bye for Now, Derry

I've arrived back in Salem, the month in Derry having flown by.  I've yet to unpack, literally or metaphorically.  But playing with photoshop and some of my final photographs has been a nice way to reconcile the two places, the here and the there.  

Good, as well, because it makes me more at ease with the writing process that awaits.  There is no objective telling of a story.  The author is always interested.  We play, rearrange, add and remove.  We accentuate tone, increase exposure to some bits, decrease it to others.  Storytellers -- and historians are ultimately storytellers -- are artists.  

Let the storytelling begin.






Saturday, June 14, 2014

The City Revisited: A Re-photographic Study of Derry

A lot of really wonderful things happened in Derry, or Londonderry, (or Legenderry even,) last year when it became the first UK City of Culture.  For a small city, it's been big at attracting interesting and creative people; last year there was funding and impetus for people to continue and build on that tradition.

One of my favorite projects was created by two photographers, Andy Horsman and Paul McGuckin.  They rephotographed iconic Derry photos, many taken over 100 years ago.  Using a large format camera that would have been used to take the originals (5" x 4") they did some editing magic to knit the images together in surprising, poignant and occasionally haunting ways. You can check out their awesome blog to learn more about them, their technique and the evolution of the project. A montage of their work mashing up more contemporary cityscapes in Derry with scenes of the civil rights movement and the Troubles can be found here, at the BBC History website.

I didn't know about the pictures and so I discovered them serendipitously. Many of the images were hung, mural-like, in the space  I was exploring --- the most-dramatically changed aspect of Derry since my last visit: the site of the former Ebrington Barracks, which has been transformed into a public space that is commemorative in a deliberately pageantry-infused way. The longterm plan includes spaces for residential, commercial and cultural use.  It is connect by a pretty awe-inspiring suspension footbridge that links the city center to Ebrington.


Historians say the site at Ebrington was where King James II's troops were camped during the Siege of Derry (1688-'89.) Finding it a good site, it was used as a barracks from the mid-eighteenth century, mostly housing locally recruited regiments. It was a parade ground in the 1840s.  From 1939, it was a navy base until 1970, when British soldiers used it as their barracks during the Troubles until 2003.

As military history (like most history) is often divisive in the city, and because the River Foyle, which runs between Ebrington and the Guildhall, was long seen as a kind of dividing line between the cityside and the Waterside, Catholic nationalist and Protestant unionist, this is symbolically a big step.  It's also an important public space.  Northern Ireland has historically had precious few of these.  Even before the Troubles raised fears of large gatherings, public spaces were limited in a congested city where order demanded that everything and everyone have a place.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Art of Memory: On May Day


On May Day, I always take a moment to read the piece below, written by Eduardo Galeano, whose writing intertwines in so many ways with memory, as I've discussed here.  
Long before I sat in a public history class, it was this piece that brought home to me how power constructs memorial narratives and made me wonder if reshaping memorial narratives might alter the architecture of power.  I've become more cynical about that over time, but I still love this prose poem. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Art of Memory: Jorge Luis Borges and "Funes the Memorious"

Access.  Access.  Access.  

Yesterday in class we explored digital history.  The plethora of digital documentation was on everyone's minds. We discussed how archivists will try to preserve and historians of the future will try to sort through all the video clips, recordings, tweets, texts, status updates, social media profiles, emails, blogs, etc. that we all produce.

Someone said people don't need to be educated formally anyone -- they can just go to the internet and become experts on topics that interest them. (I just resisted the urge to snort and harrumph.) Another person exhorted that people don't need to read anymore, don't need to know anything -- because everything is always accessible at the touch of a button.

I said I thought they needed more skills, not fewer, to make sense of all the information to which they have access.

It led to a conversation about how to make meaning from all this "stuff," how information requires interpretation, how the challenge of navigating material has replaced the challenge of accessing it. What is useful? What can be trusted?  How can we make sense of it all?  And how can we avoid the trap in which sifting through information -- consuming information --  comes at the expense of actually doing anything about the things that matter to us?

It reminded me of Borges. Well, actually, it reminded me of  Borges' Ireneo Funes. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Art of Memory: Sean Tyrrell and the "Big Songs"

Had the pleasure of seeing Galway songwriter, troubadour and vintage instrument aficionado Sean Tyrrell last night in Somerville.  I was charting a path down memory lane, having seen him at least once at his regular Sunday night gig at the Roisin Dubh in Galway and a couple times at Sandinos in Derry over the years. Strange to listen to music remembering your younger self listening to the same music, trying to place not just where you were, but who you were the last time you experienced it.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Art of Memory: Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano is, to my mind, the very best kind of writer. Defying categories, playing with media, voice and form, he is a journalist, novelist and poet.  For me he is also, strangely enough, one of the clearest routes that brought me to public history.  




I found The Book of Embraces on the bookshelf at a friend's house almost 20 years ago.  I asked if I could borrow it and he said it wasn't his cup of tea, "Keep it."  Soon after, another friend saw it on my bookshelf and asked if he could borrow it.  Off it went, just a few short weeks after it had arrived.  

I still have that copy. In it, my friend had inscribed: "I loved this book so much,  I don't really want to part with it. Still, I don't want to hang onto it a second longer when you've not yet read it."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Art of Memory: Derek Mahon and Numinous Objects


Continuing our Thursday series on the art of memory, today’s poet is Derek Mahon. Born in Belfast in 1941, Mahon is a self-described "voluntary exile' from his home in Northern Ireland.  Having lived in Paris, Greenwich Village and in a handful of different cities in Canada and London, much of his work explores themes of displacement, loneliness and the alienated life of the artist in society. I love his work.  I am never bored by Mahon and I always find new things to explore.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Art of Memory: Szymborska

I got to know memory by listening to my parents and grandparents, by following along the imaginative avenues of memories of Lake Woebegone on Prairie Home Companion, by asking strangers to tell me their stories.  But I really fell in love with memory, a love that endures, through the literary arts --- poetry, fiction, memoir, plays.  

On Thursdays I introduce you to some of my favorite writers and poets and spotlight their memories or reflections on memory. I'll share a few thoughts on why I find each piece meaningful, provocative or striking.  I am not a literary scholar and I can't tell you about influences and patterns and the like.  Maybe I'll tell you how I came across a writer or poet. I hope I introduce you to a few wordsmiths or let you connect with those you may not know well.  And in the meantime, I hope that I reconnect with some of the things that inspired me to explore the art of memory.

We start with my favorite 20th century poet, Wisława Szymborska.  There aren't a lot of famous people I wish I'd smoked cigarettes and drank scotch with, but she is one:


Wisława Szymborska